Donald Trump appeared uncomfortable but confident before his summit with Vladimir Putin, a body language expert told Eyes On Events, noting that both leaders looked more relaxed after their meeting – perhaps a sign of the summit’s success.
Speaking with the press before launching into a private meeting that lasted more than two hours, Trump and Putin’s posture and hand gestures provided clues about how the two leaders were feeling about the summit and about each other, according to Howard Feldman, an analyst and body language expert.
Feldman told Eyes On Events that it was important to note the context of meeting and that both leaders knew that the world would be dissecting their every move.
“Trump is coming from a very, very highly critical domestic America. Hillary Clinton tweeted just before they met, asking which team he’s on – referring to the World Cup. So, he’s very aware that his whole country is looking at him and trying to interpret what is really going on between these two leaders.”
Although Putin may have been a bit more at ease – perhaps due in part to not having to travel as far for the meeting, and the successful completion of the World Cup – both leaders at first looked “very, very uncomfortable,” Feldman said.
“They look like a divorcing couple. They don’t look like people who are happy to be seeing each other.”
He said that unlike Trump’s signature handshake – the US leader is known for his macho hand-throttling – the two leaders engaged in a more reserved greeting.
“What we see about that handshake is that it is a very distant handshake, it’s not one where their whole bodies are involved. So, it’s not a friendly handshake. It’s a very fair handshake. It’s almost like two boxers starting the beginning of a match.”
Pointing to Trump’s “steeple” hand position, Feldman observed that Trump also appeared to be confident – signaling that, despite his anxiousness, the US leader had high hopes for the meeting.
Some of the body language may have been calculated, however, Feldman noted, suggesting that “Trump wanted to show America that he was going in as a difficult, tough negotiator,” and only put down his guard after the meeting. “To me it looked a little bit staged,” he said.
On the topic of Trump’s much-discussed wink, Feldman asserted that there was nothing revealing about it, aside from showing that the US leader may have been trying to lighten the mood.
“What I think is that it was a friendly gesture to himself. I think he was trying to relax a little bit. I don’t think that that wink conveyed any natural warmth, I don’t think it conveyed comradery between the two. If it was any form of communication, which I'm not sure that it was, it might have been ‘alright, we gotta do this, so let’s make the best of it.’ But I don’t think we can read too much into that,” the body language expert told Eyes On Events. “If anything, my thought is that he was almost comforting himself with that wink. I don’t buy it as being anything friendly.”
After emerging from their meeting, Feldman said that Trump and Putin appeared more comfortable in each other’s presence – possibly an indicator that their talks were productive.
“It might be general protocol but you did get the sense, even from the way they were holding the podiums, that it was a little bit more relaxed,” Feldman said. “When Putin was speaking, you saw Trump leaning a little bit more towards him. There was a natural comfort after the private meeting. Indications are that the meeting went well.”
According to the body language specialist, Trump likely had more difficulty hiding his true emotions, while Putin’s tenure as Russian president has given him lots of experience in “political posturing.”
Feldman said that, while he sensed that “optics were involved” in the way that the two leaders presented themselves, “we can’t really hide our body language all the time, because something is going to give it away.” He predicted that if the two presidents were to meet again, their body language would appear much more relaxed – and Trump would likely even give Putin’s hand a firm squeeze.
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